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Time to change the Electoral College?

by Jonathan Maziarz // Published September 24, 2004 in North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

With Vice-President Dick Cheney and Presidential candidate John Kerry making stops in Reno and Vegas last week, the shock and awe campaign of saturating Nevada with political dungbombs continued unabated.

Candidates have been visiting Nevada for months now, talking up issues near and dear to Nevadans - issues like the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain - that normally would have no place in a national election except as some obscure plank in a party's platform.

This focus on minor issues allows both Bush and Kerry to sidestep talking about issues that matter to every American, like the war in Iraq, healthcare and the economy.

Why is this happening?

The Electoral College.

It's time for it to go away or at the very least, change with the times. Why?

Does anyone think it's fair that a president can be elected, and we are not naming names here, and get fewer votes than his opponent? Shouldn't our president represent the will of the majority of all the people who voted?

Let's not forget that the Electoral College was invented by a bunch of wealthy landowners who were used to a life of privilege and weren't above rigging the system to keep themselves and their kind in power (Of course, it didn't work for the Federalists - they haven;t been in office since 1796 - but we are still stuck with the system they championed.). Sure, the Founding Fathers were interested in freedom from English rule and freedom from taxation without representation, but I don't think they were so hot on the idea of one man, one vote. And at the time, there was no such thing as a national political campaign, a national political party, and the country was composed of 13 very different states that were all vying for power and were deeply suspicious of a national government that they didn't have as much control over as possible.

The Electoral College introduces a winner-take-all aspect to the election process that disenfranchises voters and subverts the will of the majority.

For example, in 2000, Nevada had four votes in the Electoral College. All four were assigned to Bush/Cheney, effectively telling those who voted for Gore/Lieberman that their votes did not matter. Conversely, just over the border in California, all 54 votes went to Gore, telling the millions of Bush supporters in that state that their votes were for naught.

There have been attempts throughout the years to change the Electoral College system, but most failed. An interesting attempt to bring equality back into the mix, and one that's gaining national attention, is currently underway in my former home state, Colorado.

The state will vote on an amendment to its constitution this November that would split its electoral votes based on the popular vote. This would mean that the state's eight electoral votes, instead of going 8-0 in favor of Bush in 2000, would have gone in his favor, 5-3. Democrats in Colorado need no longer despair that they are voting in vain should the proposal pass. Similar proposals, if offered, could give hope to Republicans in Democratic strongholds like New York and California.

If the proportional plan were applied nationwide, would it have changed the outcome of the 2000 election?

Yes.

Gore had roughly 500,000 more votes than Bush out of the 100 million cast. But, because of how those votes were distributed, Gore lost in the Electoral College by five votes. Applying the proportional method of assigning electors would have given Gore a six-vote win and would have allotted six electors to third-party candidate Ralph Nader.

Detractors of the plan say that this type of change to the Electoral College will only hurt largely rural states with comparitively small populations, like Colorado and Nevada. This may be true, but one could easily argue that states like Nevada matter too much and that Presidential candidates should be paying the bulk of their attention to issues of national importance.

Besides, states like Nevada will always have an equal seat at the federal political table, regardless of their population, in the Senate, where each state is equally represented with two Senators.

We are stuck with the Electoral College for now, but it is time for a change.